Behind the scenes of the garment industry in Bangladesh. And the challenge of making even a modest change In the fashion industry, a company selling a T-shirt in the UK for EUR 4.95 may spend only 95 cents on production in Bangladesh, yet it will still see to it that ‘corporate responsibility’ is written large in the headlines of its sustainability reports. How can this be? From a feminist perspective, it is curious how in order to perform idealised gender/class identities women and men must buy cheap fashion items from primark and H&M, which are produced by low-paid factory female workers exploited by working on less than minimum wage.. This I believe is a fair starting point for any gender/class analysis of the power relations through which global commodity chains are structured. Not to mention elements of race and imperialist (as well as neo-imperialist) attempts to control and manipulate international trade links and destroy industrial sectors of poorer countries. The rise of the export-oriented Garment industry has been a major result of trade liberalisation in Bangladesh. Major Oxford street retailers including Wal-Mart, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Primark, Marks & Spencer, you name it, all import clothes in bulk from Bangladesh, in return for some of the lowest labour costs in the world, often below minimum wage, if they are paid at all. The pressure to supply mass produced garments to foreign buyers via cheap labour is even higher during times of global economic crisis when prices on the international market are falling. Yet, the bad image these retailer chains have received through many ethical consumption boycott campaigns does not always portray the full picture of this very complex issue. Following my meeting with major buyers based here in Dhaka, I have learned that both Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s have commitments (tho not sufficient), to the social welfare and advancement of their workers and have integrated social compliance schemes and established workers’ training academies. While this is by no means sufficient and that they could do much more to pressure their suppliers to meet social labour standards in the factories. While many of them have endorsed our project they have not showed any greater commitment or desire to be futher involved with implementing it. Yet an important point to stress I think is that rather than boycotting these big clothes chains, not knowing how this may or may not affect the workers at the bottom of the supply-chain, it makes more sense to stop buying unregulated (seemingly ‘ethical’) ‘vintage’ sweatshop clothes sold at Camden Market. Saying that, I still intend to keep boycotting Primark and Tesco’s as much as I can for the sole reason that information of social conditions in their suppliers’ factories simply isn’t available to consumers at the other end, and in many cases they are horrifying. [pic]
Women garment factory workers
Bangladesh’s garment exports, mainly to the US and Europe make up nearly 80% of the country’s export income. The country has more than 4,000 factories employing between two and three million workers. The industry currently employs 1.5 million workers, the majority of whom are women, approx. 80 %, many working in hazardous social conditions. It has been a major source of employment for rural migrant women in a country that has increasingly limited rural livelihood options, and where women migrants have been largely excluded from formal work in the cities. Women workers offer cheap, and easily exploited, labour force that allows the Bangladeshi garment industry to compete in the global market. While studies have shown that women’s employment in Bangladesh’ export-oriented garment industry has narrowed the gender gap in many spheres including participation in labor force, social prestige, control over income and decision making, there remains widespread gender discrimination in wage rates and social working conditions. One the one hand,...
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